|Issue:||Africa and the Middle East II 2002|
|Topic:||World class Communications For Africa|
|Title:||Head of Sales and Head of Marketing|
|Organisation:||Internet and Carrier Wholesale and Kingston Inmedia|
African communications are below world standards. In the West, there is access to many varieties of communications. In Africa many countries, except some on the coast, lack fibre or even wired networks and it is expensive to build them. Africa can plug the gap by using a mix of wireless technologies: satellite to connect with worldwide voice, Internet and file transfer networks; mobile telephones for voice in remote areas regions; with VSAT and fixed wireless for “last mile” fixed connections.
In a future in which knowledge really will be power, Africa faces the serious problem of a widening communication deficit with the rest of the world. In highly developed economies such as the West, companies and individuals have access to a choice of communications infrastructure, including fixed and mobile telephony, ADSL, fibre optic data links and satellite communications. In Africa however, where many countries are lacking wired infrastructure, it will be always be difficult to make an economic case for bringing even basic copper wire telephony to remote communities. On a larger scale most African countries without a coastline do not have access to the fibre optic links that are the backbone of the telephone, Internet and data networks of the Western world. So how can Africa bridge its communications deficit? We believe that Africa will plug the gap by building a ‘communications blanket’ from wireless technologies, as follows: · Satellite communications – to provide connectivity with the developed world’s voice, Internet and file transfer networks · Mobile telephone networks – to bring voice communications to remote areas with moderate levels of population · Specialised wireless technologies to solve ‘last mile problems’ – such as VSAT satellite and fixed wireless technologies such as wireless Local Loop (WLL). These technologies are highly cost-effective transmission techniques that spread connectivity outwards from cities, towns or even just single buildings that have good access to communication networks In communication networks the “connection” is only as strong as its weakest link. By deploying appropriate satellite and wireless technologies Africa can obtain network availability for telephones, mobile phones and computers to enable the continent to reduce its communications deficit and increase its economic competitiveness with the rest of the world. Let’s now take a look at exactly how satellite plays a part in offering customers voice and data services throughout Africa. In all cases we will see that satellite is being used because it is a much more cost effective and secure method of transmitting information than wired technologies, which can be enormously expensive and have deployment periods of years or even decades. Satellite technology can allow a service provider to go from the drawing board to marketing and gaining revenue from new communication services in a matter of weeks. Satellite communications for voice Currently the majority of Africa’s international voice traffic is carried by satellite links. Satellite connectivity can equal and sometimes even surpass the speed & reliability of fibre connectivity, providing a ‘clear channel’ connection to major international switches that bypasses multiple, often congested, terrestrial network routes. One example of Africa as an ‘early adopter’ of new, advanced techniques compared to the developed world is Voice over IP (VoIP). Many of Africa’s telco operators are moving to a Voice over IP (VoIP) model. In VoIP, the voice conversation is turned into data, or packetised, the packets are then transmitted over a satellite IP network. VoIP technology uses a variety of digital compression techniques, which means many more conversations can be carried over a unit of bandwidth and at higher quality. As VoIP is a standard IP packet based technology, it can be incorporated into any IP network providing a cost effective alternative for voice traffic on a network which may also be carrying web data, e-mails and other types of IP traffic. The role of satellite communications in mobile telephony Mobile operators are also using satellite connectivity in their transmission networks, often for international trunk connectivity, but also to backhaul traffic from remote base stations to the carrier’s switching centres. Indeed, for the time being, most of the satellite capacity used by mobile operators is for domestic connectivity rather than international traffic. Satellite connectivity is being used to reduce the time and cost required to rollout the terrestrial transmission infrastructure required to span large countries (or those with challenging terrain). In the case of international trunking however, satellite circuits have an inherent advantage over terrestrial connections: In addition to being used as a direct replacement for point-to-point links between source and destination international gateways, the point-to-multipoint capabilities of satellite networks can be exploited in a ‘mesh’ configuration to carry traffic directly from the origination point to the remote international gateway. Satellite technology providing data and Internet connectivity The demand for Internet access is growing all the time and there is also, not surprisingly, an ever-growing number of ISP’s requiring access to the global backbone. Many countries that need this connectivity do not have the terrestrial infrastructure in place and look to satellite technology to bridge this gap. ISP’s all over Africa are using flexible, scalable satellite communications to get wholesale, uncontended access to major Internet access points in Western Europe. Once again, satellite technology offers a major inherent advantage over terrestrial circuits: typically, Internet traffic has a 4:1 symmetry, i.e. there is 4 times as much traffic travelling out to the user as sent by the user. Satellite communications support this asymmetrical requirement, and can even be configured to support unidirectional communication entirely, facilitating a terrestrial ‘return path’: A great example of satellite communications being both complementary and a substitute for terrestrial networks. Overcoming Obstacles in Africa – the way forward for Satellite Communications As we have seen above, satellite technology is already being used by telephony operators, including mobile, to transmit voice traffic between Africa and the rest of the world, provide Internet backbone access for ISP’s and to facilitate corporate data networking solutions country and continent-wide. So if satellite technology is being used to provide a transport mechanism for all these communications methods why is there a communications deficit? There are three main hurdles to overcome: economics, politics and awareness: · Operators and service providers look first at providing services where the greatest profits are to be made · In many African countries regulatory issues are providing the main hurdles to more widespread adoption of satellite technology. Although regulation is moving in the right direction, the progress in some countries is very slow. There are many countries in Africa where it is still almost impossible to obtain licences to operate an up-link to a satellite or a VSAT network. · Service providers, companies and individuals are not fully aware of, or do not fully understand, the fact that satellite communications can be a genuine, proven and readily-deployable alternative to (often non-existing!) fibre optic cable Satellite technology will continue to play the dominant role in providing high quality connectivity between Africa and the rest of the world. Its economic advantages and speed of deployment just cannot be matched for most parts of Africa. Satellite communication solutions can provide local operators with a cost effective method of ensuring competitiveness. The advantages include: · Satellite solutions can keep pace with de-regulation and provide a means of early entry with very short deployment periods for recently de-regulated market places · Satellite networks are inherently flexible and scalable – both in terms of number of sites (additional sites can be added at very short notice, with minimal incremental cost and with genuine economies of scale) and bandwidth · Satellite networks provide security and reliability to match terrestrial networks · Satellite bandwidth is normally ‘Clear Channel’, meaning the bandwidth you pay for is the bandwidth you get (a ‘leased line in the sky’), connecting one or more points independently of multiple, often congested, PTT-owned terrestrial circuits · One satellite can cover the whole continent and connect it to say, Western Europe, in a ‘single-hop’ (single beam) providing great economies of scale for communication providers operating in the region In summary, the combination of satellite and wireless connectivity means that Africa can accelerate the deployment of advanced communications technology, enabling the continent to overcome its communications deficit and compete effectively with the rest of the World. —- Box-out on ZAMNET —- ZAMNET Communications Ltd is Zambia’s first fully featured Internet service provider (ISP) and delivers Internet access to commercial and non-commercial customers who need it via the fastest and most cost-effective route possible. However, as a typical example of a land-locked country, Zambia does not have the terrestrial infrastructure in place to provide the Internet backbone access needed to satisfy customer demand. Therefore, ISPs like ZAMNET are choosing to work with teleport owners such as Kingston inmedia who can provide the connections necessary for direct, onward transmission of the satellite signal including terrestrial links and connectivity to other satellites. Conclusion By utilising IP-over-satellite infrastructure, ZAMNET has reliable European connectivity over a congestion-free direct route. This means that remote ISPs such as ZAMNET can be connected directly to the European and global tier 1 Internet backbone in a single hop and have the assurance that ISPs can continue to meet their goal of providing their clients with the information they need, when they need it.